Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I loved the mini-series "Roots" when it first screened years ago.  It connected with my fascination with history.  But it also resonated with my own interest in my family's story - not particularly famous or noble or anything.  But rather the gaining of a sense of place because of a connection to past generations.  Various family members on both sides of my family have investigated the family at different times and I always loved to hear the accounts of earlier times.  I have one precious video recording - interviewing my grandfather on his adventures and memories as a young boy living in Wanganui and holidaying on the West Coast of the South Island, the NZ starting point for the Jones family.

But it was the other side of the family that prompted a recent experience.  My mother's family the Garlands celebrated 150 years in NZ recently.  Henry and Emma Garland, pioneers in the rough but beautiful country of the Awhitu peninsula.  "Awhitu" literally "longing to return".  As the planning for the reunion progressed I found myself volunteering to lead the church service that was to be held in the old Awhitu Presbyterian church.  Little did I know what I would discover as I began the journey of preparing.

You see, I have always felt a bit of a pioneer in my Christian faith as far as my family goes.  It hasn't felt to me like I have any great heritage, but rather that I have been striking out on my own in a new direction.  In the last years of her life I became aware that my maternal grandmother's faith was something very real to her and that was a welcome touchstone.  But apart from that I have not felt that I stand in any great stream of heritage.  Perhaps this is why I have so appreciated Kristen's family and their strong faith with its concern for the generations.

So the first thing I discovered was that my great great grandfather Henry Garland was a church planter of sorts.  He is on the record as having moved the motion that confirmed the establishment of a church for the small settler community at Awhitu in 1863.  I loved discovering that sense of purpose and foresight in this man, who understood that foundations needed to be laid in spiritual as well as infrastructural areas.

Then I discovered that his son George with the exhortation of his mother donated the land on which the Presbyterian church at Awhitu was built.  The story is told of how the new atheist school teacher locked the doors on the school and prevented them using the school which was originally built for the dual purpose of education and faith.  George and his brothers unscrewed the windows climbed in and unlocked the doors and then returned the building to its original state after service!  A temporary measure until the new church was built across the road.

The records tell of family members serving the community in the church and in the important areas of education and infrastructrual development.  I really valued discovering the contribution they made across the needs of their community.  I wove all of this into my message for the service.

But I was unprepared for the service itself.  As I stood there in this beautiful building, lovingly preserved by the generations, I became aware of a deep and abiding sense of connection to the place and all who had gone before.  I wondered for a moment if I was going to be able to hold it was a moment of standing in the tradition and heritage of a family that I had just discovered.  I found myself experiencing that "longing to return" that was captured by "Awhitu".  And it mattered that I had some spiritual roots of my own.

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